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John T. Elson

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John Truscott Elson April 29, 1931 - September 7, 2009 was a religion editor and writer who eventually became the assistant managing editor of Time He is most remembered for his provocative April 1966 cover story for which the magazine's cover simply asked, "Is God Dead"


  • 1 Biography
    • 11 Early years
    • 12 1966 cover story: "Is God Dead"
    • 13 Reaction to the story
  • 2 Death
  • 3 See also
  • 4 References


Early years

Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Elson was the son of Robert T Elson, a newspaper reporter who became an editor at Time and Life He attended St Anselm's Abbey School then known as the Priory School in Washington, DC and received an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame in 1953 He also received a master's degree in English from Columbia University in 1954

Elson served in the US Air Force in the 1950s and later became a reporter for the Canadian Press news agency He was hired at Time and worked initially in the Detroit bureau He remained at Time in 1987 and eventually held the position of assistant managing editor

1966 cover story: "Is God Dead"

He was the religion editor at Time magazine who famously asked, "Is God Dead" Elson posed the questions in a cover story for the April 8, 1966 issue of Time For the first time in the magazine's 43-year history, the cover featured no photograph or illustration Instead, the cover showed blood-red letters against a black background posing Elson's question, "Is God Dead" The New York Times has called the cover "a signpost of the 1960s, testimony to the wrenching social changes transforming the United States"

Though Elson is most remembered for the "Is God Dead" cover, it was one of many stories he wrote for the publication on the subject of religion Indeed, he had written nine previous cover stories on religious issues for Time

Reaction to the story

Elson's cover story provoked extensive discussion The issue drew Time's biggest newsstand sales in more than 20 years The publisher received 3,500 letters—the most in the magazine's history to that point The Chicago Sun Times referred to it as "a debate that had shocked and confused millions of devout Americans" One syndicated columnist, Jim Bishop, responded angrily to the article, pointing out that a recent Harris Poll showed that 97% of all American claim to believe in God Bishop suggested the editors at Time had an incorrect view of God: "I would guess that the editors think that, if God is still out there, He should alter His image a little, become a hipster, stop dragging His sandals and start snapping His fingers in a Go-Go world"

In a May 1966 address, the pastor of the National Presbyterian Church of Washington disputed the "God is Dead" theory, saying advocating the theory were a small group that had plunged "into the depths of existential despair" The pastor further noted, "One is moved to ask whether the reporters were sufficiently well acquainted with the deceased as to be able to identify the corpse"


On September 7 2009, Elson died at home in Manhattan He was survived by his wife, the former Rosemary Knorr, and two daughters

See also

  • Robert T Elson


  1. ^ a b c d e f g William Grimes 2009-09-17 "John T Elson, Editor Who Asked 'Is God Dead' at Time, Dies at 78" The New York Times 
  2. ^ "Theology: Toward a Hidden God" Time 1966-04-08 
  3. ^ "God is Dead doctrine revisited" Manhattan Mercury reprinted from Chicago Sun Times 1974-10-04 
  4. ^ Jim Bishop 1966-04-15 "God Is Man's Teddy Bear" Indiana Pa Evening Gazette 
  5. ^ a b "Pastor Challenges 'Dead' God Theory" The News, Frederick, MD AP story 1966-05-15 

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